In what follows, I will go on to talk about any number of ways that the Hurricanes played well on Thursday just like I talked about how they played horribly on Tuesday afternoon. But as much as anything, the past two games illustrate the random craziness that is NHL hockey.
The Hurricanes went being seemingly incompetent to capable of handily beating a top team on the road in a matter of two days. What even more illustrates the difference is that two games were not as wildly different as a first glance might indicate. No doubt the Hurricanes started better on Thursday, but at the end of the day the difference was a couple bounces and the play of the goalie. That really is it, and the primary causes of a seven-goal swing from down 4-1 early on Tuesday to being up 4-0 early on Thursday.
The same hockey gods that cursed Scott Darling on Tuesday made up for it on Tuesday by afflicting Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne with the same curse. Rinne had a couple get by him early that maybe were the ‘shrug and play the next one’ variety of goals, but then he capped it off with an ugly soft goal that saw a puck bounce up off him and into the net as if he was a Little League shortstop facing a bad hop.
The Hurricanes did also have a role in the first period surge. On the first goal, Noah Hanifin made a good play to creep closer to the net and at the same time create a passing lane to the front of the net where Derek Ryan niftily tipped it home. Then, also taking a page out of Justin Williams’ playbook, Elias Lindholm tipped home a second shot from a wide angle, and the Hurricanes were off to the races. Next Hanifin shot into traffic with Victor Rask coming to the front of the net, and the puck fortuitously caromed right off defenseman Roman Josi’s skate and into the net.
The three goals featured the common element of players going to the front of the net, but all three goals were the kind where they just as easily (and more likely actually) could have deflected wide of the net or right into Rinne. The story written tonight and tomorrow will be about the Hurricanes phenomenal first period when in reality the Hurricanes played well but at least as importantly caught some sunshine from the hockey gods and then benefited from a ‘goalie oops’ on the fourth goal.
The second period was a bit scary seeing Nashville push back and knowing the Hurricanes’ 2017-18 history in the period, but they exited the period with the same 4-1 lead with which they entered the period.
And I really liked the Hurricanes third period. The Hurricanes answered Nashville push, intensity and fits of nastiness well, and more importantly they continued competing and attacking rather than going into a shell trying to hold on. That third period was one of the better third periods the team has played defending a multi-goal lead.
Notes from the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators
1) Noah Hanifin
As has regularly been the case for Hanifin of late, he was right in the middle of the Hurricanes’ scoring plays. He finished with a goal and two assists on the night and is continuing his growth as an offensive catalyst from the back end. Neither his first assist or his goal were anything Earth-shattering, but both showed Hanifin’s ability to use his mobility to create an opening to get the puck through to the front of the net. That is a great recipe for picking up goals and assists as a defenseman.
2) Cam Ward
In yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I said, “This might sound strange, but I think right now he is the player with the greatest ability to boost the fortunes of the team.” I went so far as to tag Ward as the player with the highest potential to boost the Hurricanes’ fortunes right now.
Saturday should (I will be shocked if it is not) will mark the first time in 2017-18 that Ward has started consecutive games. With nice spacing, if Ward plays well, I see no reason why he will not also play Wednesday and at least one of the Friday/Saturday back-to-back that follows. If that all happens, Ward will be right back to being the #1. One key difference could be the fact that he should be fresh in late December whereas last year, he was in the early stages of being worn down by being overworked. Thus far in 2017-18, Ward has played in only 10 of 33 games.
Back to the matter at hand, I would describe Ward’s play on Thursday as steady and solid. He did not see many shots early, but he was ready when he did. And he had some timely saves in the second period when Nashville was pushing to climb back into the game.
3) Sebastian Aho
Though he did not get on the scoreboard, I again liked Aho’s game. I had him pegged as a rare bright spot in Tuesday’s debacle. He is skating well and playing fast and aggressive offensively right now. If he keeps up the pace and level of play, he should soon find his next burst of scoring.
4) Derek Ryan
His tip goal to start things off was a big one. Scoring early quickly eliminated the bad taste coming out of Tuesday’s loss and immediately changed the vibe. Ryan went on to add another assist in a solid two-point night.
5) A rebound for special teams
After failing at pretty much everything special teams-wise on Tuesday, the Hurricanes collected two power play goals early in going a respectable 2 for 6 on the night, and the penalty kill was a perfect 4 for 4 after giving up three goals on Tuesday.
6) Klas Dahlbeck
He continued his short streak of being able to hop into the lineup after a layoff and be at least serviceable. He gained Peters’ confidence as the game wore on and tallied a big 17:42 of ice time and also played a big role in the penalty kill’s perfect night.
7) Results matter – road trip tally
Awhile back I broke the schedule into two chunks that I said could be critical to the season. First was a short run of three home games during Thanksgiving week that I said were critical to pushing farther above .500 before hitting the road. (The Hurricanes failed in that assignment going 1-2.) Next up was a run of nine games with eight on the road. I said that the Hurricanes needed a 5-4 mark to slightly beat treading water. Whatever the maximum amount of adversity possible given success is, the Hurricanes hit that level going 5-4 in the 9 games but hitting some big lows in getting there.
Interestingly, the conclusion of the road trip brings on a deja vu stretch of schedule that again sees the Hurricanes home for the holidays. The team has home games book-ending Christmas and then another home game on Friday before hitting the road again. The team desperately needs to capitalize on home ice advantage and avoid using home holiday hockey to give back any gains and irritate the die-hard part of the fan base who could be at all three games.
Up next is a home match up against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. The Hurricanes will be seeking a higher level of play but the same result as the match up a week earlier in Buffalo.